Wide Open Travers, Three Challenge Races Highlight a Must-See Saratoga Saturday
Saratoga’s elongated summer meet reaches its zenith Saturday when the historic $1.25 million Travers (G1) highlights a card that also features three grade 1 “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup challenge races and seven stakes overall. The defection of divisional leaders Maximum Security and Game Winner leaves the Travers a wide-open contest, but their absence could be just what TACITUS, the 5-2 morning line favorite, needs to score a long overdue breakthrough at racing’s highest level, as he looks like the horse to beat in the field of 12. The Travers has long been the defining race of the Saratoga meet, though the Sword Dancer, (which will offer an automatic starting berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf), Personal Ensign (Longines Distaff), and Ballerina (Filly & Mare Sprint) all rate as grade 1 automatic qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita and figure to lure all-star fields.
The 1 ¼-mile Travers been circled on trainer Bill Mott’s calendar for months for Juddmonte Farm’s homebred Tacitus, who would have attracted plenty of support even if Maximum Security and Game Winner were entered and now figures as a stiff favorite. The son of Tapit won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct this winter before running fourth (placed third) in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont. Tacitus, who is 3-for-7 lifetime, enters off a troubled second-place finish in the local Jim Dandy (G2) July 27, as he stumbled badly at the start before rallying late.
Will Farish’s homebred CODE OF HONOR (4-1) looked like the Derby winner when he snuck through on the inside and put a nose in front on the far turn before flattening out and finishing third (placed second). The son of Noble Mission (GB) won Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth (G2) in March for trainer Shug McGaughey and got back to his winning ways in Belmont Park’s Dwyer (G3) July 6. Code of Honor is 3-for-7 lifetime and, like Tacitus, figures to be rolling late through the stretch.
Three-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown will look to win his first Travers with a lightly raced duo in Farish’s homebred HIGHEST HONORS (10-1) and Madaket Stable, Long Lake Stable, Doheny Racing Stable, and Thomas Coleman’s LOOKING AT BIKINIS (15-1), who were first and third, respectively, in the local Curlin July 26. The former, a son of Tapit, closed nicely in his stakes debut and pulled away late to make it 2-for-3 lifetime, while the latter, a son of Lookin At Lucky, set the pace on a tiring rail and was third as the favorite, in what was his first loss in three starts.
Trainer Bob Baffert decided at the last minute to run Michael Lund Peterson’s MUCHO GUSTO (6-1), and the son of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man will attract plenty of support, as he enters off a fine second to Maximum Security in the Monmouth Park’s July 20 TVG Haskell (G1), which is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Mucho Gusto is a four-time grade 3 winner, including the Affirmed at Santa Anita in June, and is 5-for-8 lifetime.
TAX (6-1), who was second in the Wood and a close fourth in the Belmont, turned the tables on Tacitus in the Jim Dandy and rates a major contender for trainer Danny Gargan, as does Godolphin’s homebred ENDORSED (15-1), who closed to be second in the Curlin for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
EVERFAST (30-1) and OWENDALE (6-1) , second and third, respectively, in the Preakness, are also entered, as is CHESS CHIEF (30-1), LAUGHING FOX (30-1) and SCARS ARE COOL (30-1).
Midnight Bisou, Elate Battle for Distaff Bid in Personal Ensign
While the Travers rates top billing, Saturday’s three Grade 1 “Win and You’re In” Challenge races are loaded with divisional stars that are sure to make their mark at Santa Anita later this fall. The best matchup of the day comes in the 1 1/8-mile $700,000 Personal Ensign, which will award an automatic starting berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, as Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stable, and Allen Racing’s MIDNIGHT BISOU, who is 5-for-5 this year, and Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s homebred ELATE, who finished behind Midnight Bisou twice earlier this year but has won two straight, meet for the third time.
Midnight Bisou, a 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, has been unbeatable this year for trainer Steve Asmussen and already gained a berth into the Distaff when she won Belmont’s “Win and You’re In” Ogden Phipps (G1) in June and prepped for the Personal Ensign when she won Monmouth Park’s Molly Pitcher (G3) July 20. Midnight Bisou is 10-for-16 lifetime, including a third in last year’s Distaff at Churchill Downs. She has wins over Elate in Oaklawn Park’s Azeri (G2) and Apple Blossom (G1) this winter, but is 0-for-2 at Saratoga and at 1 1/8 miles. Elate, a 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, won the Alabama (G1) here in 2017 for trainer Bill Mott before running fourth as the favorite in the Distaff at Del Mar. Elate, who is 7-for-16 lifetime, was second, beaten a neck, in last year’s Personal Ensign, and also already qualified for this year’s Distaff, as she won Churchill’s Fleur de Lis (G2) in June before winning the Delaware Handicap (G2) in her last start July 13.
The presence of Midnight Bisou and Elate figure to keep the Personal Ensign field at a minimum, with WOW CAT, second in last year’s Distaff and second in her only start this year in the local prep, the Shuvee (G3) July 21, the biggest danger, while SHE’S A JULIE, who won Churchill’s La Troienne (G1) but was just third in the Shuvee, and COACH ROCKS, second in the Molly Pitcher, are also expected for the “Win and You’re In” Personal Ensign.
The $1 million “Win and You’re In”’ Sword Dancer, run at 1 ½ miles, offers an automatic starting berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf and could showcase a potential superstar in Klaravich Stable and Bill Lawrence’s ANNALS OF TIME, who was stunning winning an optional-claimer at Saratoga July 24 for trainer Chad Brown. The 6-year-old son of Temple City has battled myriad injuries over the years but seems better than even after enduring a 20-month layoff before getting back to the races when second in an optional-claimer at Belmont in June. Annals of Time is 4-for-7 lifetime, including a win in Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar in 2016, and looks poised to join stablemate Bricks and Mortar at the top of the division.
New York turf stalwarts CHANNEL CAT, CHANNEL MAKER and 2017 winner SADLER’S JOY, who were 1-4-6, respectively, in the local prep, the Bowling Green (G2) July 27, are also expected and will provide stiff competition in the “Win and You’re In” Sword Dancer, as will newcomer YA PRIMO (CHI), who was second in the Bowling Green in his U.S. debut and first start for Brown, after winning a pair of Group 1s in his native Chile.
The $500,000 “Win and You’re In” Ballerina will award an automatic starting berth into the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, and the seven-furlong contest looks to be the deepest and most competitive of the trio of Challenge races Saturday. Blue Devil Racing Stable’s COME DANCING figures as the one to beat, as she dominated while running extremely fast in winning the Distaff (G3) at Aqueduct in April and Ruffian (G2) at Belmont in May for trainer Carlos Martin. The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon was actually favored over Midnight Bisou in the Phipps before running second and enters at 6-for-11.
Klaravich Stable’s SEPARATION OF POWERS will take plenty of support for Brown, as she won the Test (G1) here last year over the track and distance and the 4-year-old daughter of Candy Ride (ARG) enters off a romp in Belmont’s Bed ‘O Roses (G3) June 7. MIA MISCHIEF, who won Churchill’s Humana Distaff (G1) in May also rates a major contender, while DAWN THE DESTROYER, HONEY BUNNY, and SPECIAL RELATIVITY are also expected for the “Win and You’re In” Ballerina.
Thursday the eyes of the racing world will be on York Racecourse in England and Juddmonte Farm’s immortal homebred ENABLE (GB), who became the first horse to win Longchamp’s Arc de Triomphe (G1) and the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year, when she starts as an overwhelming favorite in the $448,000 “Win and You’re In”’ Darley Yorkshire Oaks (G1), as part of their prestigious Ebor Festival. Run at 1 ½ miles, the Yorkshire Oaks will award an automatic starting berth into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and figures as nothing more than a procession for Enable, a 5-year-old daughter of Nathaniel (IRE) who is 12-for-13 lifetime for trainer John Gosden and 2-for-2 this year, and she already earned a berth into this year’s Turf when she beat males in Ascot’s “Win and You’re In” King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) July 27. Enable won the Arc as a 3-year-old filly then battled a few minor ailments in an abbreviated campaign last year but was able to pull off her historic double, as she again won the Arc before taking the Turf at Churchill Downs. Gosden has indicated all year that the main goal for Enable is to try and become the first horse ever to win the Arc three times.
There will be just three starters in the Yorkshire Oaks to challenge Enable, with the Coolmore conglomerate of Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor’s MAGICAL (IRE) by far the most accomplished, and the 4-year-old daughter of Galileo (IRE) is quite familiar with the heavy favorite, as she was she second to her, beaten just three quarters of a length, in last year’s Turf and this year’s Coral Eclipse (G1) at Sandown in July for trainer Aidan O’Brien. Magical is 7-for-17 lifetime, which includes a win in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at The Curragh in May. Also entered from the Gosden Stable is LAH TI DAR (GB), a daughter of Dubawi (IRE), who was defeated by just a quarter-of a length while finishing third in the 1 ½-mile Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) to stablemate Coronet (GB) in her last start on June 30. O’Brien also will start SOUTH SEA PEARL (IRE), who won the listed Vinnie Roe Stakes at Leopardstown on July 25 at 1 5/8 miles.
The “Win and You’re In” action continues Friday in the $512,00 Coolmore Nunthorpe (G1), which will award an automatic starting berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Run at five furlongs, the Nunthorpe has attracted a field of 13, with Shadwell Farm’s BATTAASH (IRE) and Coolmore’s TEN SOVEREIGNS (IRE) battling for favoritism among the European punters. The former, a 5-year-old son of Dark Angel (IRE), who has been one of the top sprinters in Europe for the past several season for trainer Charlie Hills, enters off a win in the King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood August 2 and is 9-for-18 lifetime. The latter, a 3-year-old son of No Nay Never, is 4-for-6 lifetime for O’Brien and already beat older when he won the Darley July Cup (G1) last out at Newmarket July 13.
Group 1 winner MABS CROSS (GB) is also taking support among the European punters, though she finished a well-beaten third to Battaash in the Temple (G3) at Haydock in May, while COPPER KNIGHT (IRE), EL ASTRONAUTE (IRE), FAIRYLAND (IRE), GARRUS (IRE), INTENSE ROMANCE (IRE), ORNATE (GB), RUMBLE INTHEJUNGLE (IRE), SERGEI PROKOFIEV, SOLDIER’S CALL are also scheduled to start in the “Win and You’re In” Coolmore Nunthorpe.
Catalina Cruiser Looms Large With Dirt Mile Bid to O’Brien Winner
A spot in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is on the line in Saturday’s $200,000 “Win and You’re In” Pat O’Brien (GII) at Del Mar, with Hronis Racing’s CATALINA CRUISER looking like an odds-on proposition to defend his title for trainer John Sadler. Run at seven furlongs, the presence of the 5-year-old son of Union Rags is expected to keep the O’Brien field short, as he’s been one of the better middle-distance dirt horses over the past two years. Catalina Cruiser easily won his first four career starts, including last year’s O’Brien, but was a distant sixth as the heavy favorite in last year’s Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. He’s come back this year with two wins in two starts, Belmont Park’s True North (G2) in June and the local San Diego (G2) July 20, and once again looms a leading contender for this year’s Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.
China Horse Club International and WinStar Farm’s AMERICAN ANTHEM would offer a stiff challenge, should he start for trainer Bob Baffert. The 5-year-old son of Bodemeister is 6-for-14 lifetime, and looked sharp winning a local optional-claimer July 20. AIR STRIKE, DR. DORR, GIANT EXPECTATIONS, JALEN JOURNEY, and LIEUTENANT DAN could also start in the “Win and You’re In” Pat O’Brien.